I've always wanted to check out the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park, the unlikely green stretch set down in the middle of Avenue U (how do you say that, "Avenoo-yoo"?) Most of their nature path through the wetlands turned out to be closed since last year (a fact announced by no signage at all in their handsome visitors' center, although there is an overgrown sign to this effect at the end of the trail. Apparently the path is set to re-open next month, although there's no signage about that, either.) I simply set out and found a locked gate after perhaps 50 yards or so.
Even the short section of path that is open gave a nice taste of this wild edge of New York City. Above: Phragmites (the invasive plant causing havoc in wetlands) frame an osprey platform (I think) and beyond that, the Marine Parkway Bridge to the Rockaways. At low tide, you can apparently still make out the foundations of a 400-year-old Dutch grist mill.
[Yes, indeed! The amazing Flatbush Gardener tells all about the Ailanthus Webworm Moth and its family in a meticulously researched post here.]
Nearby, an unlucky lacewing vibrated in a web.
In the park's handsome visitors' center, a pair of dioramas candidly address the area's issues like pollution and dumping. A diamondback terrapin swims in a tank and glass cases display pelts, skulls and other critter-abilia. The "Urban Ranger" puttering at a desk was curiously passive and reticent about the trail being closed, however, seeming content that "they" had not bothered to put up any signs about it in the center itself. No one should ever mistake "Urban Rangers" for real U.S. Park Rangers. (Just try going to the Visitors' Center at Gateway National Park to see the difference in professionalism.)
I did finally make it all the way to the shore at the very end of Gerritsen Avenue, where the wetlands give way to open water. A dead-end street terminates in a small, impromptu beach; some lucky homeowner in this remote and insular-seeming neighborhood has an amazing bit of urban oceanfront all to themselves. Well, almost; I walked the beach, and as I left, a young lady was setting up a lawn chair to spend the last afternoon of Summer, 2012 sunbathing.
The only wildlife I observed along the shore was this smiling starfish. Only a week or so ago, however, this very stretch of placid beachlet lay in the path of a tornado; see the link provided by an astute friend in the comments below.